1940s Archive

Wines of the Rhône

Originally Published December 1947

The River Rhône leaves Lake Geneva like a child getting out of school. It runs precipitously west out of the foothills of the Alps toward Lyon, forgetting the tranquillity and calm of Montreux and Lausanne and d on rosemary and thyme, and wile rabbit which had fed on God knows what, as daily hors d'oeuvres. At Condrieu you ate freshly caught perch, as sweet as the almonds with which they were cooked; at Orange and Avignon you could get truffled brandade de morue and aïole Mediterranean dishes, full of oil and garlic and Provençal sunshine. Chez Pic, in Valence, you were served those wonderful little goat's-milk cheese of St. Marcellin, which look like old, corroded silver watches when you buy them, but are snowy white when skinned, and go perfectly with the end of a bottle of red Hermitage at dinner.

But the greatest restaurant of the Rhône, and incomparably the best of France, is and has been for a decade the Restaurant de la Pyramide in Vienne, otherwise known after its fabulous proprietor and chef as “Point.” I have heard Point called “le roi” even by the director of the Tour d'Argent in Paris, which is praise indeed, and I doubt whether there is any chef or restaurant owner in western Europe who would have the pretension to call himself Point's equal today. During the war he was twice closed by the Germans, But within a week after the liberation of Vienne by the Seventh Army, his lovely bubble-thin baccarat glasses were back on his linen tablecloths, and his food was as good as any I have ever eaten.

Fernand Point is six feet three inches tall and weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of three hundred pounds. He has worked and lived in the kitchen since before he was ten; he has a prodigious memory, a great deal of imagination, an absolutely unfailing taste; when he is in a good mood, which is most of the time, he is as shy and simple and sensitive as a child. Like most great chefs he is capable of towering rages and black despair, and when you have seen him thus, it is easy to believe the story of Condé's chef, Vatel, who committed suicide when the fish for the King's dinner failed to arrive on time.

The dining room and cellar of the Restaurant de la Pyramide is the best possible starting point for any visit to the Rhône vineyards. The wines are all there, chosen with loving care by “le gros Fernand” himself—white Condrieu, pale and fragrant; rare Château Griller, golden, heady, with a trace of muscat in its bouquet; sparkling St. Péray; white Hermitage, honey-colored, long-lived; the sturdy, authoritative white wine of Châteauneuf-du-Pape; pink Tavel, the most famous vin rosé of France. And then, grande bouteille after grande bouteille, the orderly regiment of the reds— Côte Rôtie, Crozes, Hermitage, Cornas, Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

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